Ulcerative Colitis - Description
Ulcerative colitis is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The term inflammatory bowel disease refers to a large group of disorders that affect the gastrointestinal (pronounced gas-troh-ihn-TESS-tuh-nuhl) system. Also known as the digestive system, the gastrointestinal (GI) system includes the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine.
Inflammation is a process that occurs when the body's immune system begins to fight off foreign invaders, such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi. The immune system is a network of organs, tissues, cells, and chemicals designed to kill invading organisms. Some of the chemicals produced by the immune system irritate the body's own tissues. They cause heat, redness, swelling, and loss of function. These changes are all characteristic of inflamed tissue.
In ulcerative colitis, inflammation occurs in the lining of the large intestine and the rectum. In rare cases, it may extend into the small intestine. In most cases, however, the small intestine remains normal.
Ulcerative colitis is one of two common forms of IBD. The other form is called Crohn's disease (see Crohn's disease entry). The major difference between the two diseases is that Crohn's disease may occur in both large and small intestines while ulcerative colitis is usually found only in the large intestine and rectum. Another difference is the damage done to tissues. Ulcerative colitis occurs only in the lining of the intestine while the damage caused by Crohn's disease can extend to all layers of the intestinal wall.
The inflammation associated with ulcerative colitis can eventually cause portions of the intestinal lining to peel off, exposing open pits, or ulcerations, which can easily become infected.
Ulcerative colitis occurs in all age groups and affects men and women equally. The most common age of diagnosis is between fifteen and thirty-five years of age.